Thursday, November 21, 2013

Fixing the 2013 iPad mini price problem

Those who have read about my reaction to the higher than expected price for the 2013 iPad mini, or those who have talked to me about it, may be able to sense how ridiculous I felt for waiting for the updated tablet as I saw the announcement.  While the display density increased greatly and the performance is much, much, much better, the display quality is lacking, and the price is rather high when you consider the size and the display quality.

As an alternative, I thought about waiting for a refurbished unit or buying a refurbished iPad Air or 4th generation full sized iPad.

Last week, I looked a bit and thought about every opportunity to make the wrong decision.  This week, I went out to take a look at several tablets, including the following:

  • Amazon Fire HDX
  • Barnes & Noble Nook HD+
  • EVGA Tegra Note 7
  • 2013 Google Nexus 7
  • Lenovo IdeaTab/IdeaPad
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 7

First, Windows RT was low on my list.  I have a good feeling about Android and iOS.  There may come a day when I warm to Windows RT but that was not today.  Being comfortable is a great thing, and knowing that Google and Apple are willing to update their products within a certain range of time gives me a good feeling.  I'm still uncomfortable with all of the WP7 phones that were pushed to extinction by Microsoft.

Second, the display had to be better than average.  You can have a high density display that looks terrible, just ask 2013 iPad mini (Retina) owners.  That display covers only something like 66% of the sRGB gamut, which is quite low, especially when the cost of the whole product jumped US$70.  I need to be able to read Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and legal-ese--that fine print you can't normally see clearly.  Western languages are fairly easy to read on most displays.  We used to use a 7x9 print matrix to printer western characters in the 1980s.  If not for Japanese and Chinese, we may never have pushed past that "spray painting" type of printing.

Amazon has done a great job with their tablets in order to sell media.  Each tablet is a winner.  I'm even thrilled with their execution of the walled garden to take care of the customer experience.  I could live with it, much the way I live with Apple's way.  No fuss, no muss.

Barnes & Noble is leaving the hardware business.  They have exceptional prices on their equipment.  Their largest tablet was US$179, which had an 8 inch display.  However, while I was listening to the Barnes & Noble people having trouble with the tablet they were using to show someone, I was concerned that there were issues other than the speed of the internet connection.  1 + 1 = 2, does it not?  Being twice as nervous is not good.

EVGA Tegra Note 7 looks like a good tablet at a good price.  However, I can't get the notion out of my head that an nVidia Tegra processor is going to be a problem again, as it was with the 2012 Google Nexus 7.

Once bitten, twice shy?  Given that I had two of the 2012 Google Nexus 7 models, and wasn't happy with either, I had cause to be concerned.  However, a lot of the same concerns were boldly announced in reviews for the 2012 model and were not to be found in the 2013 models.  I tried the 2013 model at a couple of stores and found it to be strong and quick with a better than average display.  The number one item to Google's favor was that they would provide system updates faithfully where the others might not, especially for the bargain tablets.

Speaking of bargain tablets, I saw a couple of Lenovo IdeaTab (Android, right?) tablets at discount at Best Buy.  One was US$119, like one of those cheapo tablets that never gets an update and you wonder where the company went with your money three months later.  Lenovo does a great job with premium products, but I rarely hear great things about their bargains.

Samsung, oh, Samsung, how you make me wish you'd stayed just a component supplier.  You provided everyone with great components and let them do the user experience work and it was a great combination.  Then, you decided that you could make more money by competing with them, and you developed the whole product, except that you always shortchange on the development.  You leave bugs in the software, and the user experience is less than ideal.  Your checklist formula is great for you but it's not great for the consumer.

After all that, I ended up with a 16 GB 2013 Google Nexus 7 at a US$30 discount.  I bought a US$20 travel case and the US$30 protection plan that was reduced in price because of the discount on the tablet.  It still came to quite a bit but the difference between everything I bought and the price of an Apple iPad mini was still over US$125.

I hope my experience is good.  Android 4.3 is on the device (and supposedly 4.4 is getting to everyone slowly).  It's been doing a lot of updates, as you could expect from a new product.  It's still amazing to me how many things are not really good on a tablet.  It's been 3 years since my Android-based phone and Android 2.2, so what's the problem?  Why are they having to code individual fixes for several devices instead of providing one application for tablets and another for phones?  Google has recently implemented "Designed for phones" to let tablet owners know that an application won't utilize the extra space so well.  Wasn't it CEO Eric Schmidt who said that they didn't need separate layouts for tablets and phones?

I look forward to finding what works well.  As I use a certain filling station chain for diesel fuel, I've accumulated quite a few points and used 10,000 of those points to buy a US$10 Google Play gift card.  It's not a lot but it should get me started without emptying my wallet of real money.

I wonder how many others are thinking similarly.  Apple have opened a huge hole between them and the less expensive competition.  Will people buy the iPad mini?  Undoubtedly, there will be many buying it.  The iOS ecosystem is wonderful.  The Android ecosystem is coming along, but I'm still seeing far too many copyright violations where people use well-known characters in copies of their games.  However, they are fewer than in 2011.  If Google can abstract the hardware well enough that a developer can develop for two layouts, instead of focusing on hundreds of individual devices, the software problem will vanish.  Since Ubuntu and Firefox are new names to mobile devices, it gives Google incentive to fix their problems NOW.  Oh well, my tablet is working well, so far.  Hopefully, it stays that way.

I hope Apple is as happy with my solution as I am.

Update 2015.04.08: There are rumors about the iPad mini 4.  Nothing has really been said about the processor, and that is what has to be the best to generate real excitement and sales.

Now, the tablet market is fairly stagnant.  My 2013 Google Nexus 7 tablet hasn't been replaced by Google yet.  It could probably use a stronger processor, but I suspect that they're trying to make up for losses they took on the front end that made it such a great bargain.  Apple seems to be making their money all along.

I really believe that for a tablet to be portable, it needs to be 7-8 inches diagonally across the display.  I've seen plenty of people trying to take photos of video with ~10 inch tablets and it's just silly, especially when you consider the cameras are not very good.

nVidia Shield is the only really new tablet but it's rather special purpose.  Samsung continues to update their tablets and generate new model names and numbers, but is anyone buying them or do they only get them for free, as part of a data plan?

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